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'We just didn’t execute': Crusaders slump to 28-year low after second straight loss to Drua in Fiji

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9th March, 2024
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The post-Scott Robertson rot has continued, with the Crusaders slumping to three straight losses to start the season for the first time since the inception of Super Rugby in 1996.

The latest defeat comes at the hands of the Drua, with Rob Penney’s side slipping up just like Robertson’s did last year by going down 20-10.

In a scrappy match, where there were 36 turnovers, it was the home side that handled the conditions better.

A try to man of the match Frank Lomani in the 45th minute and the accurate boot of rising playmaker Isaiah Armstrong-Ravula proved to be the difference, with the Crusaders held scoreless in the second half.

Other than winger Fijian-born All Blacks flyer Sevu Reece, who scored the opener to register his 50th try in an ominous warning to Julian Savea less than 24 hours after he became the competition’s highest tryscorer by dotting down for his 61st, the Crusaders barely fired a shot.

George Bell’s lineout once again struggled, while the Crusaders couldn’t build any continuity as they turned the ball over 20 times.

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Penney looked stunned in the coach’s box at Churchill Park, as he lost his eighth straight match (five Waratahs, three Crusaders) in Super Rugby.

“We just didn’t execute,” Crusaders skipper Scott Barrett said.

“We had multiple opportunities, particularly around our lineout, and we just weren’t sharp and clinical like we’d hoped.

“We were clear on our game-plan, it was pretty simple. We just didn’t execute. Greasy ball, little opportunities, and if you give the Fijian Drua a little sniff they’ll punish you.”

The Drua made nine linebreaks to five and beat 38 defenders along the way, but the final pass rarely landed.

“This win is not for us, it’s for you guys and always lifting us up,” Drua skipper Meli Derenalagi said.

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Sevu Reece was the Crusaders’ best at Churchill Park, on March 9, 2024, in Lautoka, Fiji. (Photo by Pita Simpson/Getty Images)

Early on and it was the Crusaders who came out quickly, with the visitors taking an early penalty via the boot of young playmaker Taha Kemara in the 13th minute.

Six minutes later and Reece burst through a hole and showed off his pace to score in front of his family.

But the Crusaders were shut out from the 20-minute mark, as Armstrong-Ravula, the Australian-raised playmaker, who attracted attention from New Zealand’s best Super Rugby sides, slotted over three points to settle the Crusaders.

Then Selestino Ravutaumada did it himself, beating three defenders out wide to help level up the score.

After blowing countless first-half opportunities, Barrett, sensing the Crusaders were out on their feet and not wanting to risk another set-piece blunder, chose to have a late shot at goals rather than kicking for the five-metre line.

It came back to bite him as Kemara pulled his penalty, with the scores locked 10-10 at half-time.

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After Lomani showed his knack of scoring close to the line, the match descended into a real grind with neither side barely holding onto the ball for more than three phases in the humidity.

The Drua sealed the match when their young playmaker slotted over another penalty.

Mick Byrne’s side will take on the Chiefs in Hamilton next week, while the Crusaders’ task of registering their first win doesn’t get any easier as they prepare for three New Zealand derbies starting with the Hurricanes next Friday.

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